Today we are going to meet with a resident at the Jewish settlement of Efrat that was established in 1983 and is 7 miles south of Jerusalem in the West Bank (Palestinian land). The international community considers these settlements illegal but the Israeli government disputes this. These settlements are considered Area "C" so they are controlled by Israeli troops. Hence we went thru several check points again today. Ardie spoke to us for about an hour and we were able to ask lots of questions. When asked if we were in Israel or Palestine, Ardie told us that per the bible this is the ancient land of the Jews and that the UN is just a political body influenced by its members. Ardie was born in Chicago and moved to Efrat with his wife in the 1990's and still holds his American passport in addition to his Israeli passport. He was very cordial but also very defensive and quite disparaging and condescending of Palestinians. It was a very interesting morning.
We then traveled on to Bethlehem, a holy place for Christians, Jews, and Muslims alike to visit the Church of the Nativity originally built in 327 by the Helena, the mother of Constantinople. It is believed this church is built over the cave where Christ was born. Abed gave us a very interesting talk explaining why the "manger" really was a cave. The church is shared by several religions and they take turns each day at noon holding services in the cave. Abed did a good job of getting us in just before the cave was closed at noon and then back through the church to explain the renovations that were going on based on some recent discoveries including a mosaic floor. Judi and I were among those who joined Abed for lunch at a local famous falafel restaurant for falafels, a couple different types of hummus and arabic bread. It was really good. Our final stop was the monastery of Mar Saba built by the Greeks in 478 AD overlooking the Kidron Valley. It is one of the world's oldest monasteries and is still in use today by approximately 20 monks. While men can visit on certain days there was no visiting today. No women are allowed to visit ever but there is a women's viewing tower. We didn't use it because the views from the cliffs overlooking the monasteries and the surrounding caves were spectacular. Now it was time to return to the hotel but we ran into a traffic jam and the local Israeli checkpoint (the monastery is in an Area "C"), were diverted at another checkpoint and then there was an accident. We were pretty happy to get back to the hotel. We had a nice salmon dinner but there was some sort of problem in the kitchen and it took a long time to be served. But not to worry, wine and beer were on the house and the salmon was really good. JB